“Change Yourself and the Whole World Will Become Kinder”: Russian Activists for Reproductive Health and the Limits of Claims Making for Women



This article views reproductive health activism as a fruitful site for analyzing the cultural logics through which legitimate claims for women's needs become expressed and circumscribed. It begins from the observation that in the United States and Britain, reproductive health has been a key arena for feminist political claims and struggles for women's rights, bodily integrity, access to health care, and demands for authority in relations with experts. These concerns and struggles have not, however, emerged in all postsocialist contexts, and new activism in Russia reveals strikingly different agendas. Innovative groups of health providers seeking to increase women's access to birth control methods and safe sex, home birth opportunities, and improved health services work outside of feminist perspectives and reject political paths for change. By examining the ideological inspirations, cultural logics, and political–economic constraints shaping the outreach work of Russian health practitioners, the article explains how and why health activism became a site for personal “spiritual” revival and the strengthening of nuclear families. It also explores how conditions following the collapse of socialism have further legitimized activists' rejection of political agendas for change.